Zika virus infects cells that make bone, muscle in lab tests | Science News

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Zika virus infects cells that make bone, muscle in lab tests

false-color image of cells in minibrain

MIXED SIGNALS  Minibrains grown in the lab form nerve cells (red) prematurely and show signs of dying cells (green) when treated with a signaling molecule called LIF. This molecule pours out of embryonic cranial cells after infection with Zika virus, and could harm brain development.

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Zika virus can infiltrate the cells that give rise to bone, cartilage and muscles in the head, researchers report September 29 in Cell Host & Microbe.

In utero infection of these cells, called cranial neural crest cells, could improperly mold babies’ facial features, the authors suggest. The findings — so far observed only in cells and minibrains grown in the lab — offer a possible explanation for the misshapen heads that are the hallmark of microcephaly, a condition that afflicts some babies infected with Zika.

Another hitch: The virus made cranial cells unleash a flood of molecules that can alter brain cell development. So in addition to disfiguring the skull, infected cranial cells might also disrupt the brain, the researchers propose.

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